Despite hundreds of attacks and the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis, there is still a great deal of confusion about the number, nature and end goals of the militant organisations operating in Pakistan. For some, they remain figments of a fevered imagination. To others they are proxies of foreign powers.

This belief has not come out of the blue. It is part of an obscurantist narrative the state itself created and propagated. The problem with this narrative is that while it may have delegitimised some jihadi groups within public ranks, it is counter productive in the long run for a number of reasons. First of all, it fails to address the very ideology that promotes militancy and hence the state’s failure to present an effective counter-ideology. Secondly, the jihadi groups simply have to prove that the state-promoted narrative is a “baseless lie” to win recruits, as indicated by scores of interviews of jihadis. The fact is that these groups are very much in existence and the ones who carry out attacks against Pakistan’s civilians and armed forces have a clear and stated objective: to dominate and overthrow the Pakistani state.

Unfortunately, the state has also promoted a concept of “good” and “bad” militants. This narrative itself has been problematic. There are often strong links between the “good” and “bad” jihadis that also take the form of material, logistical, manpower and other support.

As Pakistan debates engaging the Islamist militants in the tribal areas and beyond, it is imperative that the policy-makers as well as the public understand the militant groups and their interrelations.

The following is an interactive of the militant landscape of Pakistan. Click on each group for more information:

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